As selfish as it sounds, the first time I ever really cared about someone’s feelings was when I was about six years old.
I don’t remember how we got the fish; all I remember is that we had a big tank of fish. There were probably ten fish, all of various colors, in this filtered tank in our kitchen. I vaguely remember something about them being a certain type of goldfish that weren’t yellow. I had one fish that I called my own. He was a very pale fish that was almost translucent, and I named him Fishy. Out of all the fish, I only paid attention to Fishy. I would pull up the chair to the kitchen counter and tap on the glass, waiting for him to do a double take, which I always thought was hysterical. He was my first pet.
My brother Ethan also had a fish that he called his own. He was a black fish about the same size as Fishy, and Ethan named him Blackie. Ethan loved Blackie as much as I loved Fishy. My other older brother Elliot, never really cared for fish and my little brother Eric was only a baby, so he didn’t have his own fish.
All the other fish eventually died, though I didn’t really notice. Eventually, it was just Fishy and Blackie in the tank. They lived together like this for some time. I think Ethan and I subconsciously turned it into a race: whosever fish lives longer wins. I suppose I thought Fishy would live forever. But then one day, about a year after we got him, Fishy died.
I will never forget looking into the tank and find Blackie spinning in crazy circles around the unmoving Fishy. Fishy looked bloated and he was bobbing around on his side on the surface of the tank. I felt like I wanted to throw up. My mom took him out of the tank. I desperately wanted to have a proper funeral for him, but we ended up flushing him down the toilet. I was afraid of flushing the toilet for weeks, scared that a disintegrated fishy would somehow end up in the bowl. I even had nightmares about people throwing human corpses into a giant toilet.
I cried a lot the week after Fishy’s death, and then suddenly, I got over it. It was just a fish after all. But I do remember wishing Blackie would die. Blackie looked all wrong, alone in that big tank, without the contrast of Fishy’s paleness against his black. Ethan made fun of me for “not taking good care of my fish”. Of course, Blackie died too, only three months after Fishy.
Ethan found Blackie dead, though he hadn’t floated to the top. His gills had turned inside out and he was lying on the bottom of the bowl. It was one of the most disturbing sights I had ever seen. Ethan had his head on the counter, sobbing. When we flushed him down the toilet he was practically screaming. His crying went on for weeks and weeks, and I was in a state of numbness. I had wanted Blackie to die, hadn’t I? I had gotten my wish, shouldn’t I be happy? But somehow Ethan’s crying didn’t make up for the loss of Fishy, and Blackie’s death only made it worse.
I was lying in bed about a week after Blackie died, thinking about Fishy and Blackie. And I realized that, yes, I had loved Fishy, but I loved my brother more. And seeing Ethan this upset made me even more upset. I finally let myself cry over Blackie that night, he really had been a good fish.
Of course, until that night, I had felt sympathy for people that were upset. But this time I could really feel his pain, and that’s what made all the difference.
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